Composting at Home | How to Compost
A lot of people wonder if composting is really worth their while. If done properly it really takes a minimal amount of effort. I am not saying you don’t have to work at it, but you don’t have to work at it hard. You just need to follow the “rules” and you will get an excellent product to use in your garden, your containers, or even your flower beds. Plus, let’s face it. None of us wants to contribute any more to the already overflowing landfills than we need to. Just think of it as doing your part to help Mother Nature.
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Over 1/3 of the materials in a landfill are compostable. Why are we throwing out these items that we can turn into the best amendment for our gardens? Do we think it is going to be too hard? I don’t know, let’s not over think it. Composting is simply the breakdown of organic matter. Nothing more, nothing less. Compost fuels plant growth, while restoring previously depleted soil. It also helps to retain soil moisture and helps to hold off plant diseases.
What Will I Need to Compost?
There really is not much start up cost and you can get as fancy as you want. To start you can use a small roll of fence that you can purchase at any local lumber store or home store. You would also want to have a few posts to wrap the fence around to make your “bin”. Or, you can recycle pallets to make a compost pile. The most expensive, but probably the easiest way is to use a tumbling compost bin, but they will be the most expensive initially. There are also worm composters available. The worms do the breaking down of materials in these systems, no turning with them.
If you are doing any other method than the rotating bin or worms (vermicompost) you will need something to turn the pile with. We had a special compost turning tool at one point, but a shovel or hoe would work just as well. A neat thing to have on hand is a compost thermometer. You can take the temperature of your compost pile and brag to all of your neighbors how hot your pile is. (I know, a little too geeky for some). This is also a nice tool to help troubleshoot as you rill read below. A really nice item to have is a decorative bin to place on your kitchen counter to collect scraps. You then just take this to your pile every day.
Other than that you need your browns and greens. I remember reading an article in a gardening magazine years ago. The author was telling you if you did not have enough garbage to use OPG (other peoples garbage). I guess some of your neighbors and friends would be willing to do this if you share at the end. I have also read about people going to produce departments and getting the produce that goes bad. The stores are usually glad to give you these unsalable items. That way it doesn’t have to go to complete waste.
What to Compost?
If you have checked into composting before you have probably seen the terms “green” and “brown”. These are referring to the 2 sets of materials that should be added in proper ratios to your compost pile. The green items supply the nitrogen and the brown items supply the carbon. You should use a ration of 1/3 green to 2/3 brown.
Hay or Straw
I do not recommend using cheese or meat scraps for your compost pile, as these attract rodents. Leaves and larger items should be shredded prior to being placed in your compost bin. If you have too many leaves in the fall you can just save them to the side and add them to the compost pile as needed. Meanwhile they will be partially breaking down. Be sure not to add big clumps of any of the items you are putting in your pile. You want everything to be loose .
Maintaining your pile
Don’t leave food scraps at the top of your pile. Cover them with a layer of leaves or grass. This will help to deter pests (rodents, raccoons, etc) that may want to get into your compost. You need to rotate every few weeks and add in more materials. You should be keeping your pile moist, not damp. Or, if you have purchased a rotating bin you should follow the instructions that have come with the bin. These are usually up on a stand and are easily rotated with a handle or simply by spinning the bin.
Troubleshooting Your Compost
Your compost pile should not smell. If it smells like rotten eggs or musty you need to add browns and aerate it (turn the pile). If your pile is not getting hot enough add more greens. This is where your compost thermometer comes in handy. Your pile should be getting to at least 150 degrees F if it is working properly. If your pile is too wet, add brown – cardboard, leaves or wood chips.
Bugs, etc in compost pile
If you have mites it means that your pile is too moist. You need to add your brown materials. You may see a white layer form over your compost pile. It is fungus and will aid in the process. It should be ignored. You may also see millipedes and potato bugs in your pile at times. There is no concern as they are just aiding in the process. If you have rodents you should make sure to “bury” food scraps below the surface of the compost pile so they are not quite as tempting to the animals.
When To Use Compost
Most people agree that the fall is the best time to add the compost into your garden soil. Cover it with some sort of mulch. That way it will have the entire winter to break down and become part of the garden bed. If this is not possible or you just don’t want to do it then you can add it about 2 weeks before you are ready to plant. Be sure to mix it into the soil good. Of course most of us are in a big hurry in the spring to get planted, so waiting until you can work the soil and then waiting 2 more weeks may be too much for some of us (pointing at myself).
Heating the greenhouse with compost
Did you know that you can use your compost pile to heat a greenhouse? You can put the compost pile directly in the greenhouse if you have space. Remember that they will get up to 150 degrees when working properly. Use your thermometer to check the temperature. If it is lower than 120 degrees you will need to aerate the pile. Some people are concerned about having their compost bin inside the greenhouse due to the potential fire hazard. Plus, I have heard the complaint that the pile may smell. If you recall from earlier in this post, if you have a smell you need to fix your compost bin – something is wrong.
If you prefer to have your compost pile outside the greenhouse you can run water pipes through the compost pile to heat the water and then run the pipes into your greenhouse.
Composting is a win / win situation. It is good for your garden, good for the planet and good for your soul. Get busy composting!